Sunday, August 14, 2011

U.S. troubles darken cloud over F-35

  Aug 9, 2011 – 10:42 AM ET
If the future of the F-35 fighter jet was already cloudy enough, what happens now that the U.S. economy is looking at The Great Recession, Part Two?
Even before calamity struck, in the form of  the farcical debt ceiling debate and the subsequent credit rating downgrade, the F-35 program was in trouble, with a looming debate on whether rising costs justify cancelling the program:
With a Senate showdown over the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter expected when the chamber debates the defense authorization bill this fall, Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn has told key lawmakers that canceling the stealthy aircraft would be a costly and complicated move.
In a July 25 letter to Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., Lynn said that the Defense Department would have to pay termination costs to the plane’s maker, Lockheed Martin, as well Pratt & Whitney, which builds the engine for the multiservice fighter, if Congress killed the program.
Even McCain, usually a defence hawk, has almost had it with the spiralling cost of the program.
Frustrated with the cost hikes on the fighter jet, McCain has said he plans to offer an amendment during floor debate that could eventually kill the fighter program.
During the committee’s closed-door markup of the defense authorization bill in June, McCain offered an amendment that would have put the F-35 on probation on December 31 because of cost hikes. The fighter would be terminated a year later if the program’s price tag remained 10 percent or more above Lockheed Martin’s target cost.
The committee split, 13-13, and the amendment failed to make it into the bill. But McCain has signaled that he wants to take his fight to the full Senate.
So what happens now that a super committee has been established to find ways to chop big costs, backed by a trigger that would slash the Pentagon’s budget if the committee fails? It’s going to be hard to ignore the suggestion that axing the jet would be one way to slice tens of billions off the books. And if the U.S. gets fed up, where does that leave Ottawa’s purchase plans?